Saturday
Apr302016

Are You Stressed? How to recognise stress

Many of us do not realize that we are stressed, how much we are stressed or even if our work colleagues are stressed. There are a variety of ways that stress can be observed. For example an employee who is experiencing high levels of stress may become depressed, accident prone or argumentative; may have difficulty making routine decisions; may be easily distracted.

Below are a list of signs and symptoms directly related to stress. How many of the do you have?

Physiological

Deteriorating health

High blood pressure

Elevated blood sugar levels, Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome.

Sleep problems

Weight gain

Frequent days off work

Low energy levels and fatigue

Increased heart and breathing rates

Migraines and headaches.

Skin can also show reddening, blushing, eczema, psoriasis and increased sweating

Muscle stiffness, soreness and aches.

In the short term “butterflies” in stomach, or feeling of nausea.

Poor digestion

Irregular bowel movements (should be 1-2x/day approximately the same time)

Appetite suppression or overeating

Reproductive abnormalities, decreased testosterone and erectile dysfunction, irregular or loss of menstrual cycle in women and loss of libido.

Frequent illness

Frequent colds and flu and other infectious disease

 

Psychological

Job-related dissatisfaction

Tension

Anxiety

Irritability

Boredom

Procrastination.

Changing moods.

Negative or depressive feelings

Disappointment in self

Increased emotional reactions – more tearful, sensitive or aggressive

Loneliness or withdrawn

Loss of motivation commitment and confidence

Mood swings

Anxiety

Low self-esteem

Anger and rage

Fear

Panic

Not happy and lack fun in your life

Addictions

Mental symptoms include;

Confusion and indecision

Inability to concentrate

Memory loss

Poor mental focus and concentration

Foggy mind

Feel busy/not enough time

 

Behavioural

Self prescription

Frequent alcohol

Smoking

Coffee in the morning or to stay awake

Daily confectionary and chocolate

Daily soft drinks

Daily cakes and pastries

Excessive television watching

If you listed a few of these you are probably stressed whether you agree with it or not. Denial is the worst disease because it stops you from taking real action.

In a state of total wellness you can eliminate the perception of chronic stress that pervades your life and have the resilience to deal with any short-term stress. In a state of total wellness you do not have all the dysfunction and disease states mentioned above but are healthy, enjoy what you do and feel in control of your life.

Unfortunately, to treat stress modern society often treats the related health problems so we use ulcer medications, hypertension treatments, tranquillisers, sleeping pills and antidepressants, or self medicate with cigarettes, alcohol and drugs rather than address the factors that are out of balance in our wellness potential.

Thursday
Apr282016

Infants eating rice have much higher Arsenic levels

Rice is a typical first food and major ingredient in various infant foods contains arsenic (As). Many studies have already reported that rice-based foods contain arsenic, and sometimes levels are surprisingly high.

This study obtained dietary data on 759 of 951 infants in the US. An estimated 80% were introduced to rice cereal during their first year. At 12 months, 32.6% of infants (42 of 129) were fed rice snacks. Among infants aged 12 months who did not eat fish or seafood As concentrations were higher among those who ate infant rice cereal or rice snacks compared with those who did not eat rice or rice products. As a result, infants consuming only a few servings of rice cereal or other products (eg, rice snacks) per day exceed the tolerable intakes for As The highest arsenic concentrations were among those who consumed infant rice cereal and among those [babies] who ate rice snacks, levels were about double [that of] non-rice eaters. These findings indicate that intake of rice cereal and other rice-containing foods, such as rice snacks, contribute to infants’ As exposure and suggest that efforts should be made to reduce As exposure during this critical phase of development.

Advice to parents is to reduce the levels of rice in foods given to infants and include a greater mix of foods including more vegetables and foods like avocados.

Arsenic (As) exposure from rice is of particular concern for infants and children. Infant rice cereal, a common first food, may contain inorganic As concentrations exceeding the recommendation from the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations of 200 ng/g for polished (white) rice, the new European Union regulations and US Food and Drug Administration limit. While the full potential adverse health affects on infants and children are unknown it is thought it may impact the the immune system and brain development. Arsenic is also classified as a group 1 carcinogen.

Other major sources of Arsenic is tobacco smoke and pest control. Arsenic was primarily used as a treatment for pine to prevent mould and termite attack. It’s released into the environment from the timber and children playing on arsenic treated pine playgrounds will be exposed to some degree. Arsenic treated pine is usually identifiable by the green colour of the logs or planks. Arsenic dust is still used as a bait for termites.

Arsenic compounds were widely used pharmaceutical agents in the early 1900s. In fact back in 1907, one of the earliest chemotherapy drugs was arsenic.

http://archpedi.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2514074

 

Monday
Apr252016

Low potassium linked with weight gain and metabolic syndrome

Central obesity has become a worldwide problem within the last several decades, and the prevalence of obesity remains high. More than 33% of adults and 17% of youths in the United States, and 26.3% of adults in Germany, where the prevalence is among the highest in Europe, are obese. Furthermore, the rest of the world is quickly catching up, particularly developing countries. Metabolic syndrome (MetS), which is known as a cluster of obesity-driven alterations, such as central obesity, insulin-resistance, dyslipidaemia, and hypertension, has received increasing attention in recent years as its prevalence and public health burden have increased worldwide. To date, substantial evidence shows that MetS is associated with diabetes, dyslipidaemia, cardiovascular disease, specific types of cancer, and many other conditions.

A growing number of studies have shown clear links between lower nutritional status and weight gain, obesity and increased rates of metabolic syndrome.

Potassium is an electrolyte that is necessary for normal cellular function. Because it is easily excreted by the kidneys rather than stored in the body, humans need a constant supplement of potassium. However, the average potassium consumption is inadequate, only 54% and 58% compared to the recommended amount in the U.S. and Korean populations. According to recent studies higher potassium could alleviate obesity and MetS risk, while other studies have found that potassium has a null effect on obesity and MetS.

This study, a meta-analysis of 8 studies found that serum potassium and urinary sodium-to-potassium ratio was associated with obesity and low intake was associated with metabolic syndrome. Futher analysis also demonstrated a protective effect of adequate potassium intake on obesity and metabolic syndrome.

High levels of potassium are found in many fruits and vegetables including high levels in banana and rock melon.

http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/4/183/htm

Sunday
Apr242016

Twenty first century stress

A typical day in the life of the twenty first century busy person begins like this - woken by the blaring alarm clock or even worse a raucous radio announcer, a bowl of over processed breakfast food, or nothing to eat at all, and a rush to get to get to work. Meetings, reports, deadlines, peer pressure - the list goes on. The body’s fight or flight mechanism is triggered but without the safety valve of physical activity to defuse it's state of red alert. The 'distress' caused by these events triggers adrenalin and cortisol to flow into the bloodstream. And as the day or the week goes on, it doesn’t get any better. Their stress results in increased irritability, anger, aggression, more arguments and depression while increasing the risk of dysfunction, disease or even disability. Trying to function with high stress levels also results in low productivity at work and at home.

The lifestyle of the twenty first century person is filled with stress - stress created by family, friends, work and themselves. It's a combination of psychological and physical 'stressors'. Much of the psychological stress we experience is a largely a product of how we think - our attitude. In the twenty first century, psychological distress often has more to do with our overreaction to situations than it does to the actual external pressures. It's not so much as what happens to us, as how we react or respond to the situation or event. Ten thousand years ago as fisher hunter-gatherers, our stress response to a bear, a snake or a fire heading towards us was critical for our survival. Now the threat posed by such physical stressors has largely been replaced by a new range of far more subtle and insidious psychological stressors. Much of this is the psychological pressure people feel as a result of something happening around them or to them. The pressure of too much work, deadlines or exams, complex relationships, arguments or being 'told off'. However, the difference between positive 'eustress' and negative 'distress' is how a person interprets these events and how many of them they're subjected to.

Fortunately there are many strategies we can use to take control of this stress which can easily be incorporated into our everyday activities. However, when you are stressed, you rarely have the skills to step back and identify the cause. Even if you do, it's difficult to take action if you have not been given the tools you need to take control of the situation or your reaction to it. Stress, and the negative thinking that goes with it, can become an addiction. Negative thinking becomes a habitual way of responding, and a downward spiral begins - down into more and more negative thinking and as a result more and more stress.

The new forms of physical stress add to our burden of psychological stress, but are often so subtle or such an integral part of our busy lives that we remain oblivious to them. These physical stressors produce a negative effect on our bodies no matter how or what we think about them. You may be surprised to learn that the main ones include your alarm clock, the modern media, low quality food, loud noises, short or poor quality sleep and late nights. As we become more psychologically stressed we actually have a tendency to expose ourselves to more of these particular physical stressors. For example, if you are not getting enough sleep, you have to rely more and more on your alarm clock, and if you oversleep and wake up already fatigued, you may not have time for breakfast or may feel you need to jerk yourself in wakefulness with a shot of caffeine. Because we feel pressured and fatigued we may resort to junk foods and energy boosters, such as sugar and fat laden foods to get through the day. Or you reach the weekend feeling as twisted as a pretzel, and a bit too much partying is needed to 'unwind'. So the stress spiral becomes tighter and tighter.

Much of what is aired on television is negative and shows scenes that our subconscious mind does not distinguish from reality, particularly scenes of violence and brutality. Our minds aren't designed to cope with seeing these events every night on the news. While our conscious mind can override these images to a large degree, even an adult will still experience some subtle negative influence in the brain.

The alarm clock blaring creates an instant state of stress which is aggravated by the grating voice of the radio announcer trying to sound as though they're awake. The body is propelled from deep sleep to a state of ready to fight off anything. Similarly, loud noises are also a stress which destroy concentration in the short term and hearing in the long term. Blaring music on smart phones (and I have one but don't have it on too loud) are not only a major issue for hearing loss but also an increased number of waking accidents at road and railway crossings.

Poor food stresses the body as it depletes nutrients which are essential for its effective functioning. Top of the list are the highly processed foods with sugar, vegetable oils, processed grains and food additives. Don’t be mislead by the plethora of ridiculous attempts to make processed food look healthy. My guide is that if it is processed it has become a stressor on the body and is no longer a food. Eating quickly and overeating also places stresses on your digestive system. You can't absorb the nutrition in your food as effectively if you gulp your meal and overload your stomach by eating too much. Eating this way requires more effort from your digestive system, more blood is redirected to your gut, making you feel sluggish, fatigued and more stressed.

At last, the end of your busy day and time for well-earned sleep. But can you get to sleep, and when you do, do you get enough? Mostly, you just don’t seem to get enough. Poor sleep and going to bed late adds to the toll exacted by psychological stress. The average length of sleep has declined from around 9 hours a hundred years ago to seven hours or less today. And the depth of sleep has also declined, thanks to television, caffeine, increasing work pressures and Thomas Edison inventing the electric light. Welcome to the 24-hour stress cycle. Each little bit adding onto the next little bit and the result being more health problems and lower productivity.

Signs of stress and stress related health disorders include sleep problems, digestive and eating disorders, headaches, anxiety, depression, anger and hostility, drug abuse, overeating and eating disorders. These have all reached epidemic proportions in our busy society, even in kids. Too much stress reduces our capacity to function effectively. Stress can short circuit memory and brain function, causing decreased concentration, mental focus and memory, making it more difficult to think clearly, particularly during more stressful periods, such as exams. Stress limits your personal power and the more stress you have the greater are the limitations imposed on reaching your potential.

Another very significant effect of distress is the gradual depletion of the immune system. As early as 1977 studies showed immunosuppression amongst people under stress, as well as students during stressful periods, such as exams. More recent studies have found people with higher levels of psychological stress show a greater susceptibility to infectious disease. Subjects with higher rates of stress were significantly more likely to contract respiratory infections than those who lead comparatively ‘stress free’ lives.

Lesser-known effects of distress include increased cortisol output, resulting in increased appetite and weight gain and depletion of certain nutrients in the body. Current research suggests that stress may play a significant role in increasing the body’s requirement for a range on nutrients, such as C, E, A and B-complex vitamins, minerals such as magnesium, zinc and calcium and omega 3 fatty acids. Fortunately, some animal studies have also shown the effects of stress-induced oxidative damage (free radicals) can be reduced through a diet high in antioxidants.

The good news is stress can be managed and even made into something positive. There are many studies that demonstrate the use of various techniques, including Cognitive Behavioural Therapies such as goal setting and cognitive restructuring, relaxation, meditation, physical activity and dietary changes. Any of these approaches used alone or in combination (and research shows that a combined approach is more effective) can dramatically reduce negative stress. Making time to manage your stress can result in significant improvements in your productivity, and your health. Use as many of the techniques and strategies listed below from the iLEAD program as you can.

Lifestyle

Learn to relax. Take some slow, deep breaths – the more the better.

Learn to meditate. Even 10 minutes a day is a great start, or take up yoga to stretch your body and mind.

Get more physical activity. Physical activity is one of the best ways to de-stress, as it breaks down the stress hormones in your body. Just a quick five minute walk can do wonders. I tell my students to go for a brisk 10 minute walk before exams as it lowers stress and increases the blood flow to the brain. Which is just what you want to improve your thinking.

Environment

Find a nice place to relax, to be able to just get away each day.

Open the windows for some fresh air.

Play some Baroque music

Get some sun each day

Attitude

Set your goals.

Learn some simple techniques to control those busy voices in your head. Yes, of course you have voices. Take control of them. Rather than letting them control you, write down all the dramas you have in a journal. Get them out of your head and put them in perspective.

Realise that we often stress over small and relatively unimportant things. They may seem important now but they won't be in a few weeks and you'll wonder what all the fuss was about if you remember them at all.

Diet

Eat less processed food.

Eat as much wholesome and nourishing food as you can, particularly green vegetables, fruit, nuts and beans as they are 'super foods'.

Eat less processed grain

Eat less meat and dairy

Avoid artificial food colours (102-150) and flavours (600s).

Have a fresh vegetable juice instead of a soft drink.

Cut down sugar and alcohol

What’s great about all these strategies is that they also improve the overall health of the individual and reduce susceptibility to most of our twenty first century chronic diseases. They'll also improve your thinking and consequently your results at work.

And my final message: wake up to the effects of stress on you now. If you seem to think you don't need to manage your stress better, then you probably really DO need to. One of the primary symptoms of suffering from too much stress is thinking that you're coping just fine. Implementing some simple strategies now can enhance health and well being for life. 

 

Saturday
Apr232016

Obesity in the Workplace

The world is experiencing an epidemic of obesity and the workplace is no exception.

Obesity is a major health issue with the potential to reduce any productivity gains we have made over the past decade. The impact of employee obesity on the performance and productivity of the Australian labour force dwarfs most of the productivity issues organisations face.

The costs to the Australian economy total in the billions of dollars and affect not only large industries but also small businesses. Some costs are obvious, such as increased absenteeism and sick leave; other costs include slower physical and mental performance, increased risk of accidents and added costs for modified furniture, equipment and added insurance and legal costs. As the workforce ages and becomes bigger over the next decade, these costs will only increase.

Unfortunately, Australian employers have largely ignored obesity. Attempts to tackle obesity have been piecemeal and half-hearted at best, with the information presented incorrect and unlikely to dramatically reduce the problem. In fact, some attempts may contribute to more weight gain and exacerbate the social problems pertaining to obese individuals.

People Who Need to Lose Weight Want to Do So

Numerous studies have shown that people who are overweight want to lose weight. It is the top health concern for almost half of workers. Research suggests that some 43% of employees in the U.S. said that losing weight was their top health priority. That percentage represents a 10% jump in employees who said weight loss was their top concern in the previous year.

The average Australian worker is stressed, overweight, unfit and has a cholesterol or blood pressure problem. A report from the WHAA/ University of Wollongong found that half of the workers studied were physically inactive, with 40% being overweight, and another 20% obese; 12% had high blood pressure.

 

Dietary and lifestyle changes over the past few decades have lead to obesity epidemics in many countries and Australia is considered to be one of the most affected. Since the 1990s, this epidemic has led to ever-increasing costs of health services around the world. It is becoming widely recognised that obesity is a serious health issue that has the potential to dramatically increase workforce costs—both directly and indirectly. Nearly 60% of Australian workers are overweight or obese. People who are overweight or obese are more likely to be absent from work and are more likely to suffer from chronic diseases such as some cancers, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The health risks of obesity increase with its severity and reach significance when a person’s weight increases to greater than 20% above optimal. This leads to adverse metabolic effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and insulin resistance. The non-fatal, but debilitating, health problems associated with obesity include respiratory difficulties, chronic musculoskeletal problems, skin problems and infertility. The more life-threatening problems fall into four main areas: conditions associated with insulin resistance such as type 2 diabetes; CVD problems; certain types of cancers; and gallbladder disease (World Health Organization 2005).

The health effects associated with obesity are extensive and clearly linked to more than 30 medical conditions that include:

  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus;
  • Gallbladder disease;
  • Coronary heart disease (heart attack);
  • Stroke;
  • High blood pressure (hypertension);
  • Osteoarthritis;
  • Gout;
  • Joint and spine pressure;
  • Psychological and mental health issues;
  • Emotional disorders;
  • Sleep apnea and poor sleep;
  • Respiratory problems;
  • Poor female reproductive health;
  • Some types of cancer (breast, prostrate, colon, endometrial); and
  • Early death.

In addition, higher rates of emotional exhaustion and psychological complaints, lower quality of life, and mortality are correlated with obesity. And all of this puts pressure on our ability to work productivity.